Friday, March 30, 2007

US-Guatemala Post Game Thoughts

Thoughts on Wednesday night's game:

Like four-inch pocket blades in the sides of the Goodyears, the Guatemalan National Team deflated the tires of the US Men’s National Team ride. The beautiful game, this was not. In fact, it was the ugly game. This was the kind of game of that makes Bea Arthur look like Christina Aguilera, for even a sideline of half-naked Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders couldn't have redeemed the outward appearance of this game. Then again...

I suppose the stomach-turning scene could be attributed to two deciding factors: the Guatemalans’ shameless zeal on defending (hence the 4-5-1 opening formation) and the weary legs of the US players, who had just taken a 3-1 result from Ecuador just three days prior. Put the two in a blender, add two cups of physical play and a referee who looked more like a bystander than actual arbiter, and you have one of the most unwatchable games on national television since the 2006 MLS Cup back in November.

So much for the stereotype that Central American sides are often more creative than their European counterparts – last night’s horror debunked that myth. I don't know if last night's strategy was typical of the Guatemalans, or if it was a specifically-tailored game plan enacted after watching the Americans throttle their Ecuadorian opponents on Sunday. If the latter was the case, then credit the Guatemalans for really making the game a long, drawn-out nightmare of a match for the Americans, complete a packed midfield, relentless (uncalled) fouls and an endless series of long balls. Essentially, it was a style of play that the Americans were largely unprepared for, especially after facing the complete opposite style of play employed the Ecuadorians.

Eddie Johnson’s National Team run is about as stagnant as Ben Affleck’s acting career. He needs to find a way to break this goal-scoring slump ASAP. Credit ESPN commentators Rob Stone and Eric Wynalda for calling out Bradley's decision to keep Johnson in the starting eleven. Zero goals in 12 games for a forward of his talent is beyond a slump and it should be cause for Bob Bradley to have EJ find his confidence elsewhere, whether it be in MLS, Portuguese Liga, or USL - wherever - before coming back for another National Team call up. If he's not going to find his form in MLS (where he tallied a whopping two goals last year), he certainly won't find it in international competition.

I hate devoting more lines to the unflattering aspects of Wednesday night’s horror show, but the game provided more than enough fodder for it. I think if you tally up the time that the ball was in the air, it would have qualified for bonus Capital One frequent flier miles. If this is the style of play that the US intends on employing versus Guatemala during the Gold Cup in June, then I can bypass the Tylenol PM as my primary sleep aid on the night of June 7th. Speaking of long balls...

Is there an international long ball launching competition among goalkeepers that I don't know about? Kasey Keller, as good of a keeper as there is, annoyingly launches those goal kicks as if FIFA was one the cusp of outlawing them altogether. Methinks Keller is a frustrated football place kicker, who ultimately found that the talent to rocket air-filled spheres translated well to soccer. I wanted to (and actually did) scream "RELAX KASEY!" in response to said goal kicks (much to the chagrin of my studious brother, who was preparing for an exam in the adjacent room). Hey Kasey, how about actually allowing your players to get upfield before you clear the runway for takeoff? Enough with the Hail Mary boots - it isn't Randy Moss on the receiving end of those booming kicks of yours.

Four games, three wins, one tie - no losses. 3-0-1. Undefeated. Whichever way you spell it, Bob Bradley has yet to lose with the dreaded “interim” label prefixed before his title. Now, one would think that the prospect of shedding the label was not enhanced by last night's game. But, let me say this: Bradley wasn't outcoached, nor has he been outmatched during his current (albeit, short) tenure. His boys were simply outmuscled and, quite frankly, abused by a Guatemalan squad that wasn't at all playing for a result. It was a dogfight from start to finish, with little opportunity for the pretty one-touch passing drills and the creative dribbling in open space that were prominently featured in Tampa last weekend.

It would be an absolute farce if US Soccer doesn't give the job to Bradley at this point. After three months of evaluations, camps, and games, I cannot adequately convey how much of a setback it would be for the men’s program to come this far, essentially find itself considerable success, only to take the eraser to the blackboard and completely wipe out all that was learned. Much has been accomplished up until this point, and with two very important international tournaments on tap for this summer (Copa America and the Gold Cup), it would be disconcerting if Bradley was relinquished of his duties at this critical juncture. If this whole charade is part of an elaborate, well-thought out plan by the talking heads at US Soccer to undermine the progress of a convalescing squad of players whose collective psyche was absolutely shattered last June during the World Cup, then maybe we can all look forward to the wonderful prospect of an absent United States side in South Africa three years from now.

Now, onto the less insightful observations…

The team came out in those pinstriped royal blue fashion faux paus once again. In fact, it occurred to me that these very jerseys look like pajama tops, sans the buttons and left-breast initial. Apparently, these ill-designed shirts were said to have contained some magic powers that, the players hypothesized, allowed them to play so well vs. Ecuador. Surely, these magical pinstriped garments could only aid in the players’ efforts vs. Guatemala, right? Not so much, as this hypothesis was quickly dismissed with the 0-0 draw. Hopefully, this will prompt the return of the classic white and blue kits come June 2nd vs. China.

Once again, my opinion was not solicited for Eric Wynalda's red card/yellow card/game ball feature. The yellow card to NY Red Bull for continuing to play on turf was unusual - the club doesn't own the field it plays on. If anything, the criticism is misdirected, as Red Bull is at the mercy of the powers that be at The Meadowlands over the turf they play on. If Wynalda really wanted to point out the evils of artificial turf currently pervading MLS pitches, he should have called out Bob Kraft, who recently installed field turf at Gillette Stadium. A red card for FIFA President Sepp Blatter for the reported lack of preparation on the part of South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup also seemed to be misdirected. The idea that South Africa is unprepared is one that was fodder for internet chat rooms about six months ago. Game ball to Landon Donovan for his chase of Wynalda's own 34 career US MNT goal plateau appeared to be more of a "I swear I don't hate him for potentially breaking my record this year" statement. Eric, I was never under the impression that you spited Landycakes in the first place. In any event, it was classy remark that your only regret “was not being able to play with him.” A nice statement made by a guy who, curiously, couldn't stick with a club for longer than a season or two during his professional career. Hmmm…

Now, I will give a game ball to you, Eric Wynalda. Every US MNT and MLS game should be called by you. You are refreshingly unabashed in your on-air criticisms of players, refs, and coaches alike, however wrong or right you are. Yet, you are dire need of a new writer for your halftime feature. I hear there's this Portuguese kid with an Irish name that is quite the writer -maybe he could help you out with this.

Without any more National Team games until the post-Memorial Day weekend, you have been given a reprieve of my tired rants and commentary of said games for 64 days. In the meanwhile, beware of the forthcoming bashing I shall unleash on US Soccer once they make an announcement on the managerial position.

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